I was a student in Emerald Ireland looking for adventure, new friends and life experiences. Where better to fly than New York City on a student work visa and soak in the sights and culture.
I rode the subway, didn’t run around asking people to take my picture and didn’t even visit the Statue of Liberty. No, I was much more interested in living the life of this thriving city.
Soon, after meeting a great yet quirky, group of friends, I discovered one of my favourite activities which became a weekly ritual – summer at Bryant Park, Monday movie nights!
We got there ridiculously early, hours before the scheduled classic was to be screened, picked a good spot on the lush, bleached grass and laid out our picket blankets. Then we chatted, debated and laughed and someone always brought a deck of cards. We’d relax with our sunscreen and wicker hats and play old favourites like bridge, hearts and sometimes even poker though money was never exchanged, perhaps an embarrassing forfeit or two.
Time passed quickly and was punctuated by runs to the pizzeria on the corner. Our group would grow larger as we stood up and flailed our arms about to direct newcomers to our location.
The films were often in black and white; sporting legends of acting from bi-gone days like Jimmy Stewart and Carry Grant and we’d settle down in a mass of half-naked limbs in the warm haze that accompanied twilight.
When the credits rolled to a close our group was always last to leave. We’d have a sing-song and acquire assumed or worried looks, or we’d debate the plot and acting of the feature before eventually either heading home or seeing if Ben and Jerry’s was still open off 42nd Street for a midnight snack.
When morning rose and the AC rattled by the window, awoken by the landlady’s pin sharp clawed cat, Catullus, I’d slip on my starch white tee shirt and roll up my black skirt to a ridiculous length (apparently this was a pre-requisite of my job – Brooklyn Diner Waitress – more thigh, bigger tips!)
I worked with a wonderful woman who was the epitome of the stereotypical mother hen down to her running out at lunch to purchase the buy-one-get-one-free offer on cat food!
It was a Greek diner though we served everything under the sun from calamari to blueberry pancakes. The owner, a jolly, swarthy skinned Greek called me his Emma Môn which apparently translated as ‘my blood’. I told him Emma was fine especially when he slipped into his mafia impersonations and spoke fervently about ‘the family’ and he was the one to introduce me to vodka-martini’s in an Irish bar called ‘Bubbles’!
Apart from the long hours, blistered feet and the obligatory employee who did as little as possible for as long as possible, I loved working there – Chatting to the regulars, eves-dropping on the private lives of normal New York neighbours and of course biting my tongue at the Irish comments!
Customer: Oh my gawd, you’re Irish?
Me: Yeah! What gave me away, the accent or the ginger hair and freckles?
Customer: Wow! Do you come from a large family?
Me: No, small actually.
Customer: Oh, do you live in a cottage?
Me: No, regular house.
Customer: Do you have a brother in the priesthood?
Customer: Oh right! I love Ireland. I’m Irish you know?
Me: Really because you sound pretty Brooklyn to me?
Customer: Oh yeah! We visit back home in Ireland, every summer.
Me: That’s brilliant! Which part?
I did of course pack in a few tourist treasures; the Empire States Building, Bronx Zoo, Broadway, oh a lot of Broadway and spent many lonely afternoons wandering aimless as a cloud through Central Park, until a random middle-aged man ran after me to warn me that wearing rainbow colours meant that I was homosexual. I just laughed and told him I was a retro, hippie, Irish leprechaun!
Going back home after two months was both disheartening and exhilarating. I was brought back to reality abruptly after a stark contrast in foreign and domestic hospitality: In New York, riding the train to JFK, I found that when I came to stand to disembark my rucksack, which was stupidly weighted with the heaviest items on top, precipitated gravity and I landed in the isle with a thud. However, kindly, previously taciturn travellers helped me to my feet and propelled me safely out the door.
In Ireland however, I reached the train station to journey home but dropped my ticket. When I bent over the distribution of two months of summer clothes rested squarely on my head and I couldn’t stand up again. I tried bouncing on my souls for leverage and got a little but that resulted in the dropping of my purse and another crotched retrieval. I remained there, like some hunchbacked statue for what was probably ten minutes, struggling and flushing bright red and not one passenger stooped to my aid.
Awh, you got to love the Irish!